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Chef Efi Nahon Brings Taboon Cooking to New York

Chef Efi Nahon Brings Taboon Cooking to New York

13 years after he first landed in New York from Israel, chef Efi Nahon has done far more than just integrate the Taboon oven into Manhattan's culinary vocabulary. Here's a look at his incredibly tasty timeline:

2004: Efi Nahon is recruited from his native Israel to open Taboon, which officially opens its doors in 2004, introducing the art of traditional Palestinian taboon cooking to New York City (the pleasure was ours!)

“Everything was new, important, and interesting, especially learning to purchase from city vendors,” said chef Nahon. “I had to learn the terminology — cuts of meat are called different names here than they are in Israel — and start thinking in terms of pounds and ounces instead of kilograms.”

Fun Fact: There’s basically no difference between a taboon, a wood oven, and a brick oven. They’re all dome-shaped, built with clay bricks, and fueled by wood. Taboons, according to Nahon, have the capacity to better cook fish, poultry, meat, veggie, and bread.

2008: Nahon takes over Barbounia’s kitchen, bringing his newfound confidence and experience with him. Here, he gets a bit more adventurous and daring, realizing his passion for combining Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. The owners had other ideas, though: they wanted the restaurant to be more Greek and Italian. “They didn’t think Middle Eastern food was sexy,” Nahon explains.

Nahon didn’t like the idea of mimicking every other Mediterranean haunt in the city, so he stuck to his guns until the restaurant's management warmed to the concept.

2013: The chef is given the opportunity to design his own kitchen and menu in the opening of Bustan, which quickly became an Upper West Side favorite.

“Bustan was the final notch in building my confidence, learning how to better deal with customers, and working with them on substitutions,” he said. “I was free to explore how to combine multiple ingredients and cook them to their best advantage in a Taboon.”

2015: Back at Taboon, everything is new and different. The menu manages to incorporate those Greek and Italian influences after all, and has lots of new twists. Look out for the loaded potatoes with tahini in lieu of sour cream, cocktail sauce made with Moroccan souk chili powder instead of horseradish, and smoked duck crumble stands in for bacon bits.


3 ways chefs can offer high-end experiences at a fast casual price

Efi Naon, executive chef and director of operations of Taboon, a fine-dining restaurant in New York City, shares how he offers an elevated experience at his fast casual brand, Taboonette.

Efi Naon, executive chef and director of operations of Taboonette, has incorporated the menu from his fine dining restaurant into his fast casual brand.

By Efi Naon, executive chef and director of operations, Taboonette

It's no secret there is one generation changing the way we eat — Millennials. They are expected to spend $1.4 trillion by 2020, and food is at the top of the spending list.

Thinking of today's consumers, we are seeing a drastic desire for better at an affordable cost. You'd think the two are polar opposites and can't coexist, but restaurants are making it happen and giving customers an elevated experiece at a fast-casual price. How? Through their atmosphere, ingredients and technology.

Atmosphere
While food is the star of a restaurant, it's the atmosphere or ambiance that keeps a customer coming back. Going to a restaurant shouldn't just be about the meal itself, but also about the experience. It's essential to create a good atmosphere that makes it an enjoyable place to spend time. To do this, create an open kitchen concept, this allows customers to see their food being made which can in turn be a truly awesome experiece. High tops and communal tables also make for a great gathering for small and large groups.

At Taboonette in New York, and all future franchise locations, we have a taboon in the dining room — a wood-burning oven where we cook warm flat bread. This draws inspiration from backgrounds of each one of us who have been apart of the brand and our personal experiences throughout the Mediterranean and Israel. Adding a statement wall or unique menu item can also play in your favor — the more "Instagramable" you are, the more likely you'll gain brand awareness and increase your foot traffic.

Ingredients
So many of the foods we eat today are processed — it's cost-effective and quick, but it's unhealthy and changing the quality of the meals we create. Taste is a major factor when it comes to the success of a restaurant and consumers are in search of a more wholesome flavor that is good for the body. Opt for fresh ingredients that are sustainably sourced and locally grown – high-quality ingredients will result in better flavor and nutrition.

Taboonette's menu is inspired by the ingredients and dishes of the place where everything began for us, our full-service, fine-dining restaurant Taboon. We incorporated flavors all over the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean coasts and created an award-winning menu. Using Taboon's menu as our base, we then transferred the flavors into the format of a fast casual business – perfect for the busy lifestyles of customers as well as the business demands of prospective franchisees.

Seeing the history of Taboonette's transformation, it's easy to see why we are proud of the brand both as a kitchen and concept. And pride matters when you're proud of your kitchen, take advantage of this and be transparent. By educating guests about what they were eating, who prepared it, and where the ingredients were sourced, they can feel more confident about dining at your restaurant regularly. Don't be afraid to take risks with ingredients, trending flavors and spices. Restaurants are doing out-of-box things with cauliflower, ginger and turmeric. Just make sure you remain authentic stick to your roots to perfect what you are known for.

Technology
It's hard to imagine life without technology. The majority of the world has technology right at its fingertips. With restaurants, customers expect quick and expert service – most of the time it's with the expectation technology will be involved. Today's advancements in tech can help improve a diner's experience and the efficiency of your business.

Adding technology to assist in the ordering process can drastically decrease the wait time and boosts accuracy in ordering. This will convey that your restaurant put thought into its service with the needs of customers in mind, exuding hospitality.

At Taboonette and the franchise protype location, we made the choice to include self-ordering kiosks and electronic table locators, which help meet these growing expectations and demands of today's consumers. Our kitchen includes a self-cooking center that is revolutionizing how food is prepared with a results-input approach. This allows us to create from-scratch, slow-cooked food in a quick-service atmosphere. It also ensures that food is always consistent with guest expectations, but on the horizon of AI, technology needs be well-balanced so don't lose sight of human interaction and personability.

To appeal to consumers, restaurants must adapt to the everchanging consumer landscape. With millennials leading the way, dining out several times a week has become the social norm. Restaurants and franchises can flourish when they are strategic with building a comfortable and entertaining atmosphere, investing in high-quality ingredients to enhance their menu and updating technology to create efficiency in day-to-day operations.


Bustan brings exciting Mediterranean fare to UWS

Just when I’d written off Upper West Side dining north of 72nd Street, up popped Bustan. The new “pan-Mediterranean” bistro, where most everything passes through a dome-shaped taboon oven, brings welcome exotic fire to boozy Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan’s most pitiable culinary boulevard.

Colorful walls and dizzying light fixtures make Bustan one of the more festive dining rooms in the neighborhood. Gabi Porter

If Bustan were in the Village or Chelsea, bloggers in droves would be badgering publicists for free meals. But who needs downtown when the house is full every night with the best-looking crowd north of Boulud Sud? I even saw a few guys in jackets and ties!

Bustan’s 74 seats flow through the most colorful new venue west of Central Park. A deco-accented bar precedes a sunny roll of blue, green, pink and earth-tone dining nooks. Have fun sorting out all the spiraling ceiling fixtures, gold-glowing wall installations and sexy, pleated banquettes. Tchotchkes and showbiz images are too many to count after killer cocktails like bourbon-based, blood orange pop. A just-opened rear outdoor garden adds 30 more seats in an oasis-like setting.

Although modern Israeli cuisine is influenced by tastes and raw materials of many regions, it might be a stretch for an Israeli-born chef to tap Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, Lebanon, Greece and Turkey in a single Manhattan menu. But Efi Nahon, who’s a partner with owner Tuvia Feldman and managing partner Guy Goldstein, has the game down. While his “Mediterranean” menu hosts as many national accents as a 24-hour diner at midnight, his virtuoso hand with the taboon lends it unity.

In amateur hands, a taboon — like Indian tandoor ovens or barbecue pit smokers — can dry out everything. But Nahon uses gas to complement the wood fire, as well as a rotating base, nontraditional methods meant to keep the temperature at a uniform 650 degrees and prevent overcooking.

A hint of olive tree chips added to the fire subtly smokes its way through the lineup. So that’s where squid grilled a la plancha, surprisingly served with challah bread, gets its barbecue mood!

A colorful cauliflower trio is spiked with spicy harissa. Gabi Porter

Piping hot taboon bread starts every meal: a runway-length loaf that’s sweet and crunchy, creamy and doughy, olive oily and kissed with rosemary and sage. Use the carving knife to lop off a small chunk and set the rest aside or you might be too full for anything more.

Oddly, baroque-topped “flatbreads” are the menu’s weak link — overcrowded, doughy pizzas. While it was fun watching a couple struggle to dismantle pastrami carbonara with egg yolk and kale, your appetite’s better indulged elsewhere. (Most small plates are $7.95 to $13.95 entrees $18.50 to $28.50).

Bold seasoning brings a wharf-full of herbs and spices to dish after dish. Tahini and pickled mango dips politely exoticize crisp-fried falafel. We recognized cilantro, but what other herbs are blended with the chickpeas? “I wish we knew,” the waiter grinned. “The chef keeps it secret.”

Finishing in the taboon imparts a crisp char to octopus lilted with fennel, orange, lemon and coriander. Nazareth tahini and green harissa lend sparkle to crunchy white, purple and green cauliflower.

Ultra-supple beef cheeks are braised with root vegetables and wine, and topped with angel hair pasta and crackling Parmesan cheese. Lamb terra cotta is a Middle Eastern pot pie. The waiter rolled the crust back like a rug, revealing a steaming stew anchored by three fervently spiced lamb kebabs.

Delicately poached Moroccan halibut graced with cilantro foam, Berber seasoning and garbanzo beans, and adorned with black squid ink fettuccine, “is not what we normally find around here,” marveled a friend who lives two blocks away.

For dessert, go with silan, a many-layered, sundae-like affair crowned with shredded halvah that’s spun like cotton candy atop vanilla ice cream, puffed rice and roasted hazelnuts. Avoid at all costs raspberry-red pepper ice cream. And what in Athena’s name is sticky toffee pudding doing in a Mediterranean restaurant?

“I don’t know but I’m just so glad it’s there,” laughed our friendly British-born waiter. Be glad Bustan, with all its paradoxes and puzzles, is with us, too.


Lands of milk, honey, kreplach & urfa biber.

FOR BETTER OR WORSE, the Middle East has been in the world spotlight for the last several years. While plenty of other publications focus on the area's often-volatile politics, we're interested in the extraordinary ingredients and culinary traditions that have been exported from desert kitchens. Read on for an introduction to some of the products and foodways of the nations that comprise the Middle East.

EGYPT: Egypt's national cuisine bears the modified imprint of its Greek, Turkish, Lebanese and Syrian neighbors. Bread (ayash) and fava beans (ful) are of the utmost importance in the Egyptian diet. A typical breakfast will include beans or bean cakes, along with eggs, pickles and cheese. Molokhiyya is a leafy green vegetable native to Egypt, traditionally served in a soup or stew with rice or crushed bread. Fruits are tree and vine-ripened, meaning that they are only sold when truly in season. Zibib, similar to Greek ouzo, is mixed with water and enjoyed as an aperitif by those who indulge in alcoholic beverages.

IRAN: Known as Persia until 1935, the nation now called Iran has existed at the center of an extraordinary culinary crossroads for some 2,500 years, and its traditional foods are legendary. The combination of sweet and sour flavors and warm, rich spicing contribute to the character of the cuisine, along with hearty, yogurt-crusted rice, charcoal-grilled lamb, some forty varieties of bread, and sharbats, or sweet cold drinks based on fruit, nut and herb syrups. Pistachios, pomegranates, walnuts, almonds, barberries (see p. 41), sour cherries, egg dishes and eggplants (known as 'the potato of Iran') are all commonly found on the Persian table, as are pickled vegetables, fresh herbs and citrus fruits.

IRAQ: Iraq is one of the world's largest producers of dates, which are found throughout the national cuisine--eaten out of hand, added to rice dishes, used as a coating for broiled fish, and made into syrup and vinegar. Having been part of the Ottoman Empire, and with a legacy of occupation by Iran and Turkey, Iraq has seen its culinary identity indelibly imprinted with influences from those nations, as well as from Syria and Lebanon. Iraqi cooks distinguish themselves, however, through a relatively liberal use of spices. Beef is more common in Iraq than in other Middle Eastern countries in fact, cattle outnumber sheep and goats in some areas. Freshwater fish are plentiful in the nation's many rivers, and are often grilled and seasoned with onions and lemon juice or vinegar. Iraqis eat a variety of meat porridges, pastes and pies, in which bulghur or baked bread is cooked with seasoned lamb or beef.

ISRAEL: Food historians and critics debate whether the young nation of Israel can be said to have its own cuisine, or whether Israelis' food habits and preferences have been merely transplanted from the nearly 100 countries that comprise their heritage. French and Italian cooking and American-style fast foods are pervasive in Israel's restaurants, and the foods enjoyed in the homes of Central and Eastern European and North African Jews, as well as those from the Balkan states, all have a place on the Israeli table. However, the most pervasive influence has, naturally, come from the surrounding Middle Eastern countries. Like their neighbors, Israelis eat wheat, rice, beans, eggplants, olives, peppers, yogurt, sesame, lentils and tomatoes in abundance. The Israeli take on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cookery reflects the tenets of Kosher law, which forbids the mixing of meat and dairy, as well as the consumption of pork (also forbidden to Muslims), and certain varieties of seafood.

LEBANON: Lebanese cuisine shares many characteristics with its Middle Eastern neighbors, yet reflects unique and subtle French influences, thanks to France's 23-year occupation of the tiny country, from 1923 to 1946. Bread is of utmost importance, and stale bread is never wasted it is merely re-hydrated, toasted or ground into meal or crumbs. Kibbeh, a paste of soaked bulghur and lamb, is generally accepted as the national dish of Lebanon, whether served raw, baked or fried. Like many of their neighbors in the Middle East and Mediterranean, Lebanese cooks tend to serve meals as mezze, or a series of appetizer-sized portions. Fats are used more sparingly in Lebanon than in the rest of the region, and sumac is a ubiquitous seasoning for cooked foods, especially for stuffed pastries and lamb. Despite Muslim law forbidding the consumption of alcohol, the Lebanese wine industry is flourishing, and arak, an alcoholic beverage based on anise and grapes, is the Lebanese national drink. Lebanon is home to a relatively large Christian population, which might explain both arak's popularity and the wealth of vegetarian dishes, developed to accommodate Christians' seasonal meat restrictions.

SYRIA: Syrian food most closely resembles that of Lebanon indeed, many culinary texts, including the venerable Oxford Companion to Food, treat the two nations as a single entity. Kibbeh, hummus and tabbouleh are a constant presence on the Syrian table. Syrian sweets are considered the region's best, and include karabeege Halab, or pistachio-stuffed cookies, candied fruits and nuts, numerous filo pastries and qamar al-deen, or apricot leather. Fats are used with a more liberal hand in Syria than in Lebanon. Lameh bi ajin is a popular flatbread preparation, topped with minced lamb, onions and pomegranate syrup. The Syrian city of Aleppo, which shares its name with a much-beloved variety of red pepper (see p.40 et al), is considered the culinary capital of the region.

TURKEY: Turkey has undertaken a quest to join the European Union, but its people, history and culinary legacy are solidly rooted in the Middle East. At the height of the Ottoman Empire's influence, during the period between 1453 and 1650, Turkish cuisine was exported and imitated throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Hallmarks of the cuisine include yogurt-based salads, stuffed vegetables, grilled fish, yellow sultana raisins, grain and rice pilafs, lamb, milk puddings, and flaky pastries filled with nuts and sweetened with honey. Dill, mint, parsley, garlic and sumac are among the most common seasonings in Turkish cooking. Today, more than 35% of the jobs in Turkey are related to agriculture, with tobacco, cotton, grains, olives, beets, citrus fruits, melons, figs and pistachios all produced in abundance.

He's BEEN ALL AROUND THIS WORLD

PUBLIC * NEW YORK, NEW YORK

BRAD FARMERIE IS SWIMMING in kitchen interns at Public. "We have a reputation for working with offbeat ingredients from around the world. Students hear about what we do and want to learn from us, but once they get here, I find that what they really want to do is molecular gastronomy," says Farmerie, who serves dishes inspired by his extensive travels in Asia, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. "I want to tell some of my interns to walk before they run. I'd like them to learn to properly truss a chicken before they start amalgamating proteins. To me, it's weird to skip all those little steps that make you a chef."

Farmerie's own path started at Le Cordon Bleu in London. He worked full-time as a student, spending a total of seven years cooking in England before returning to his native United States. Encouraged by his older brother Adam, who had lived in England for a year, Farmerie chose London because, as he explains, "I knew there would be time for American culture later. I wanted something different for myself, and I wanted to be closer to the rest of Europe and the Middle East." His family has roots in Lebanon, and Farmerie recalls many childhood meals featuring "exotic" ingredients. "In the 1970's my family was eating, not just lamb, which no one else was eating, but raw lamb, flat-breads, baba ghanoush, hummus--no one would raise an eyebrow now, but back then, our neighbors thought we were wackos."

He originally intended to become a mechanical engineer, and spent two years in an undergraduate program at Penn State while working as a cook to make a little spending money. Farmerie eventually withdrew from school to discern whether the kitchen was his true calling. "I decided to put engineering on the back shelf for a year, and to try and cook in the best restaurants that would hire me. I thought, if it suits me, I'll pursue it. If not, I'll go back to engineering. After that first year, I knew I wouldn't be going back to college."

As a culinary student, Farmerie worked full-time at Michelin three-starred Chez Nico, and went on to cook at Coast, under chef Steven Terry at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and at the Sugar Club and the Providores under Peter Gordon, whom he calls "a hugely influential guy in my career." Gordon, along with fellow New Zealander and chef Anna Hansen, helped to open Public in a consulting capacity, and continues to provide guidance through what Farmerie calls an "open dialogue."

"I look at his menus [for the Providores] and he looks at mine. I go over there once or twice a year, and he visits us once or twice a year. It recharges the batteries and we both go home with new ideas." Shortly after Public opened, several articles about the restaurant incorrectly listed Gordon and Hansen as owners, a mistake that Farmerie says was "a little bit hurtful. You work so hard to create something and you send out the information that states very clearly that these people are consultants, not owners, and that it's a limited involvement, but unfortunately some members of the press wanted to create their own story. They wanted this place to be part of some cross-Atlantic empire. It was a small knock to my pride. Although," he adds with a smile, "I knew that, as a part-owner and chef of a restaurant in New York, that kind of stuff was going to be the least of my worries." For the record, Public is co-owned by AvroKO, a design firm whose other restaurant projects include Sapa, Odea and E.U., all in New York. Farmerie's brother Adam is one of the company's four principals, and the chef himself is also a partner.

When asked whether he had difficulty transitioning from British kitchens back to the States, Farmerie says, "One of the hardest things at first was that the terminology we use is so different, and I came up learning the British terms. I'd leave orders on purveyors' answering machines in New York and I'd get calls from them the next day, going, 'What the hell are you talking about?' I used a lot of lamb chump in England, and here they call it top sirloin. I had to hold up a leg of lamb and point to the part I wanted in order for my purveyor to understand me. But the great thing about being in New York is the way that the restaurant community embraces new people. It's not competitive." Really? "Well," he adds, "Other chefs don't see us as competition, because there's no one else doing the kind of food that we do."

TABOON * NEW YORK, NEW YORK

WHEN EFI NAHON moved from Israel to New York, he had one bag, two friends, and no idea what his kitchen, his neighborhood, or his new bosses were like. He'd come at the request of his employer, mentor and friend, Haim Cohen, arguably Israel's most well-known chef and a co-owner at "Middleterranean" restaurant Taboon. Cohen's partners are Danny Hodak and Gadi Ruham, who also own a wood-flooring business, called Norwegian Wood, that caters to restaurant clients. Hodak's wife Ayala, who helps manage the restaurant, is the sister of Cohen's wife, and that extended family circle has grown to include Nahon, who has now been in New York for nearly three years.

"We are like a family," says Nahon of his relationship with the partners. "This is my fate in life, I think. We do Passover together. We take vacations together. For good and bad, it is family and business mixed. It's difficult sometimes. If you work in a big company, you solve problems in a meeting with managers. There are systems. With family, you can't get mad so much. You can't complain. You need to do it differently."

Nahon, a native of Tel Aviv, began picking up dishwashing and prep shifts in casual restaurants to make extra money while completing his compulsory military service. His chance on the hot line came one night when a cook called in sick. "After cooking like this for three years, I understood that I was doing it good," he says. "I moved on to a big fish restaurant and started again from the bottom." He worked his way up to chef de cuisine, then departed for France and a six-month stage at Marc Meneau's L'Esperance, a Michelin three-starred establishment in the Burgundy village of St.-Pere-sous-Vezelay. Nahon says that the experience was profoundly humbling.

"I was peeling peas and fava beans for days. I couldn't understand it, like, 'Why am I doing this? I was a chef in Israel!' Every night I said, 'Tomorrow I'm not going back there,' but every morning I went back." Further challenged by his lack of French, Nahon was thrilled to meet a few English speakers who kept him from complete isolation. With their help, he recalls, "I grew to love it. I really got into it after about three months. I think I cried when I left." Finding Tel Aviv too noisy and crowded after life in a village of 200 people, Nahon moved to northern Israel and cooked in a small Mediterranean restaurant for a year. He then spent a fruitless month in Manhattan, searching for an employer willing to navigate the complicated world of foreign labor, and returned again to Israel, where he began to cook for Haim Cohen at Keren, the acclaimed restaurant he owned with his parents. An opportunity to run an Italian wine bar in Tel Aviv briefly called him away from Cohen, but he was back after six months, and stayed until Cohen closed the restaurant after the death of his parents. The next year was spent in Greece, helping Cohen open hotel restaurants and planning Taboon. The name is an Arabic word for oven, a nod to the domed, wood-fired oven in which Nahon cooks just about everything on his menu.

In his review of the restaurant for the New York Times, Frank Bruni remarked that, "At Taboon, it's all about that oven . It's the Kathleen Turner of cooking implements, a fiery diva at center stage. And Efi Nahon, the chef whom Mr. Cohen trained back in Tel Aviv, knows how to coax an expert performance from it." Nahon himself recalls a long period of trial and error with the oven before Taboon's opening, and admits that it remains an everyday challenge.

"Sometimes it gets too hot. Sometimes the wood is wet. You have to find a fish that doesn't seize up into a ball when you cook it. I can't make a thick ribeye, because it would take too long. You have to fight with the oven, sometimes, and we taught ourselves not to give up. And you have to learn to manage the service. That is probably most important, because you can't push the oven to work any faster if you have six tickets standing."

Bolstered by the success of Taboon, Nahon has settled into the life of a New York chef. "I work harder here. Danny has told me more than once, 'If you want to cook in the same place as Jean-Georges and Daniel, you have to earn your right.' It's true, if you want respect from the other guys, you have to prove your right to be here. I need a big city, and this is why I love New York. It's everything, all the time."

INTERNATIONAL MAN OF Sicily.

AHANDFUL OF YEARS AGO, Don Pintabona stumbled upon inspiration while sitting at a massive dinner table in Israel. Having gone there to cook and raise money for a children's hospital, Pintabona and fellow chefs Robert Donna, Todd English and the late Jean-Louis Palladin were invited by their host chef to a dinner at the home of a housewife named Miriam Cohen.

"She was a Sephardic Jew, from Morocco, and Moroccans can really cook," says Pintabona. "There were 25 or 30 people at this huge table--representatives from the American government, the Israeli government, Israeli chefs, Arab chefs, Italian chefs, just a really great mix of people. Miriam paraded out about 20 or 30 dishes, mezze-style, and it was amazing--honestly, the most amazing meal I've ever had in my life. Flavors and ingredients I'd never had before. Just spectacular. So I'm looking around the table, and everybody's mesmerized by the food. How cool is that? All different nationalities and backgrounds and religions, and there's absolutely no discussion of those things that typically divide us. Everybody just honed in on the food." Cohen's skill at breaking down political and ethnic barriers with food gave Pintabona the germ of an idea for The Shared Table (Random House 2005). The book, his second, was released shortly before the chef opened his first independent restaurant venture, called Dani (pronounced "DAH-nee.")

Dani showcases the flavors of Sicily, Pintabona's ancestral home, where a number of his relatives still live, and where he's learned a great deal about food and cooking. "Sicily is a really interesting sort of melting pot of the Mediterranean," explains Pintabona. "Over the centuries everybody has ruled the island, from Arabs to Saracens to Greeks to Romans, and everybody left their imprint on it. It's evident in the culture, the architecture, the music, and especially the food." Pintabona, a CIA graduate, thanks a late uncle for teaching him the intricacies of Sicilian cooking during his many visits to the island, and even included his uncle's pasta al forno on the menu at Dani, alongside Middle Eastern-inspired touches like a pistachio sauce and labne to accompany his butternut squash ravioli, and a yellow lentil puree served with grilled prawns.

Pintabona's name was long synonymous with the Tribeca Grill, part of Drew Nieporent's Myriad Restaurant Group. He opened it as executive chef in 1990, and helmed it until early 2003, when he left to open Trina Restaurant and Lounge at The Atlantic Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, on behalf of Starwood Hotels & Resorts. Prior to settling in at Tribeca Grill, the chef worked for Georges Blanc, in Vonnas, France, for Daniel Boulud at the Hotel Plaza Athenee, and for Kiyomi Nishistani at Gentille Alouette in Osaka, Japan. A lifelong traveler and culinary adventurer, Pintabona would work hard in New York and save all of his money for a year, then set out for a several months-long trip overseas, working and eating his way around a region. "When the money ran out, I'd come back and get another job. I did that for about ten years, always traveling by myself, on a very tight budget. I tried to experience everything, get totally immersed. I wanted to know why different groups of people, and different cultures, eat the way they do," he says.

Pintabona recalls meeting Nieporent and actor Robert DeNiro in the dining room of New York's Aureole restaurant, which he had just helped Charlie Palmer to open. "It was right when DeNiro was thinking about getting into the restaurant business. They told me about this new restaurant, Tribeca Grill, and I said, 'That sounds great, but I'm leaving for Bangkok in three days.' In three days we arranged about six different meetings, and for the first time in my life, I left the country with a job to come home to." The restaurant has become a beloved New York institution and, under Pintabona, earned numerous accolades from Wine Spectator, DiRoNA and Restaurants & Institutions' coveted Ivy Award.

"When I left Tribeca Grill, I didn't want to get right back into the game. I wanted to take a break, feed my soul," he muses. "It took a while to find the right location for Dani. I wanted to walk into a place and just feel it. And when I walked in here," he adds, indicating the warm, light-filled dining room just minutes from opening to the Saturday night crowds, "I said, 'You know what? This feels good."

Cilantro-Cured Sea Trout with Coconut Labne, Cucumber Salad and Spiced Roti (Serves 8)

Clare Valley, Australia 1998

For the smen: In saucepan, combine butter, za'atar and chili flakes and melt butter over medium heat. Once butter is melted, continue to cook, whisking constantly, until white milk solids turn light brown and nutty-smelling, about five minutes. Remove from heat and strain though fine-mesh sieve, leaving as many milk solids as possible in bottom of pan. Whisk salt into butter, let cool to room temperature and refrigerate, covered, for at least one week. (Note: makes more than necessary for recipe.)

For the sea trout: Score trout on skin side at three-inch intervals. In large bowl, combine all remaining ingredients and mix well. Let sit 15 minutes, then pack mixture around trout. Cover wire rack with plastic wrap into which several holes have been poked. Place rack on sheet pan and place fish on rack. Refrigerate five days. Remove curing mixture and pat dry. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the coconut labne: In bowl, whisk together yogurt and coconut cream powder. Line fine-mesh sieve with rinsed, two-ply piece of muslin and add yogurt mixture. Cover with plastic, weigh down lightly with kitchen weights or plates, place bowl under sieve and refrigerate six hours. Roll mixture into balls, dust with za'atar and coat gently with olive oil. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the cucumber salad dressing: In saucepan, combine mustard seeds, vinegar and oil and mix well. Bring to boil, remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Season with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the spiced roti: Toast cumin and grains of paradise in saute pan until fragrant. Transfer to mortar, crush with pestle and set aside. Place flour in bowl and slowly add water, stirring to incorporate. Knead for ten minutes, until smooth, cover and let rest 30 minutes. Divide dough into eight pieces. Flatten each into thin round and let rest five minutes. Using rolling pin and flour, roll each piece as thin as possible. Brush dough with smen and sprinkle with cumin, grains of paradise, salt, cilantro, and za'atar. Roll each piece into a cylinder, with toppings on inside. Roll each cylinder into tight coil, tucking end underneath one side. Let rest 30 minutes, then flatten each coil by hand into five-inch rounds. (Note: May refrigerate in airtight container, separated by parchment paper, for up to 24 hours before grilling.)

To serve: Preheat grill and grill roti for two minutes. Turn and grill one minute on second side. Cut each into six wedges and arrange on plate. Toss cucumbers and cilantro with dressing and arrange on plate. Cut trout into very thin slices and arrange alongside cucumbers. Place two labne balls on plate and serve.

For the cucumber salad dressing:

*Traditionally, a Moroccan cooking oil made from sheep and goat's milk butter, cooked with herbs and spices, strained and aged for months or years. Farmerie makes his smen with cow's milk butter.

**A spice blend used in Middle Eastern cooking, containing sesame seeds, thyme, marjoram and ground sumac. Available through Penzey's Spices, (800) 741-7787 or www.penzeys.com.

***Dark red, moderately hot and tart pepper native to Turkey and northwestern Syria. Available through Penzey's.

****Spray-dried form of coconut milk. Available in Asian markets, or through Kalustyan's, (800) 352-3451 or www.kalustyans.com.

*****Also known as guinea or melegueta pepper, a plant from the ginger family whose seeds impart a warm, spicy and slightly bitter flavor to foods. Available through The Spice House, (312) 274-0378 or www.thespicehouse.com.

Cinnamon Duck-Stuffed Bric with Fig and Urfa Biber Chutney (Serves 8)

Central Otago, New Zealand 2003

For the saffron oil: Toast saffron in saute pan over low heat until dry and brittle, about five minutes. Add juice and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until juice has reduced by 2/3. Add oil, return to boil and remove from heat. Let cool slightly, then transfer to blender. Blend at high speed three minutes. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours. Strain through fine mesh sieve and store in airtight container until ready to use. (Note: makes more than needed for recipe.)

For the barberries: Combine sugar, juice and flower in saucepan and bring to boil. Add berries, return to boil and remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate 12 hours.

For the spice mix: Combine all ingredients, mix well and store in airtight container until ready to use. (Note: makes more than needed for recipe.)

For the cinnamon duck: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season duck breasts with salt and pepper and place, skin side down, in saute pan. Cook over medium-low heat for five to seven minutes, draining every 30 to 45 seconds, until skin is light golden brown. Transfer pan to oven and cook until medium rare, about seven to nine minutes. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Cut meat and skin into 1/4-inch cubes and transfer to large bowl. Add cheese and spice mix and toss to combine. Stir in mint, season with salt and pepper if necessary, cover and refrigerate two hours.

For the fig chutney: Combine all ingredients in medium bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until 20 minutes before ready to serve.

To finish: In deep-fryer or tall-sided pot, preheat oil to 350 degrees. Fry bric in oil until golden brown and crispy. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Season with nigella seeds and salt. Once cool, break bric into large pieces.

To serve: Let barberries, duck mixture and chutney come to room temperature. Place one piece bric on plate and top with duck mixture. Top with bric, more duck and one more piece bric. Place chutney on plate and top with two fig quarters. Garnish with barberries, saffron oil and watercress leaves and serve.

*A bright red, elongated berry native to Europe, Asia and the New England states. Often dried or candied as high acidity makes them unpalatable in raw form. Available dried through Kalustyan's, (800) 352-3451 or www.kalustyans.com.

**Also known as black onion seeds small black seeds with nutty, peppery flavor. Available through Kalustyan's.

***Greek cheese made from combination of sheep and goat milk tangy and salty, but creamier than feta cheese. Available in Greek groceries, or through Minos Imported Foods, www.minosimports.com.

****Available through L'Epicerie, (866) 350-7575 or www.lepicerie.com.

*****Available through Asia Market, (212) 962-2020.

******Purple pepper native to Turkey and Syria with intense, smoky flavor. Available through Kalustyan's.

*******Available through Paris Gourmet, (800) 727-8791 or www.parisgourmet.com.

Grilled Ox Tongues with Eggplant Relish and Quinoa Flatbread (Serves 8)

Matakana, New Zealand 2004

For the ox tongues: Combine all ingredients in large pot and bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce to simmer and cook for about two hours, or until knife slides easily into and out of tongues. Remove from heat, let cool 30 minutes and peel tongues. Strain cooking liquid through fine-mesh sieve, pour over tongues and refrigerate overnight. Remove tongues from liquid and cut into 1/4-inch think slices, removing and discarding gristle as necessary. Cover and refrigerate until ready to finish dish.

For the eggplant relish: In large bowl, combine zest, juices and onions and mix well. Let sit at least two hours. Meanwhile, in deep fryer or tall-sided pot, heat vegetable oil to 350 degrees. Discard excessively seedy eggplant cubes and fry remaining eggplant in oil until golden brown. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. In saute pan, combine olive oil and cumin over low heat and cook until cumin is fragrant. Remove from heat and carefully pour into onion mixture. Add eggplant and herbs, season with salt and pepper and stir gently. Set aside at room temperature until ready to serve.

For the confit garlic yogurt: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place garlic in small, oven-proof container and cover with oil. Cook in oven until cloves are very soft and slip easily from skins, about one hour. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature. Slip four cloves garlic from their skins and mash gently with fork, reserving remaining cloves in oil for another use. In bowl, combine garlic, yogurt and salt and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

For the quinoa flatbread: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring small pot of salted water to boil. Add quinoa and cook until it "pops" and appears fluffy, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and drain well. In bowl, combine flour, cumin, paprika and half of sumac. Add quinoa and yogurt and stir to combine. Slowly add water and knead dough into a ball. Let rest at least 30 minutes. Working on floured surface, use rolling pin to roll dough as thin as possible. Transfer to parchment-lined sheet pan, brush with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and remaining sumac. Use floured pizza wheel to cut bread into desired shapes. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

To finish: Preheat grill or grill pan. Brush tongue slices with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on hot grill and cook one minute per side.

To serve: Place dollop of relish in center of plate, add slice of grilled tongue, and top with piece of flatbread. Repeat this process, layering relish, tongue and flatbread. Top with dollop of yogurt, garnish with spring onions, cilantro and sumac and serve.

For the confit garlic yogurt:

For the quinoa and sumac flatbread:

*Dark red berries of a bush native to the Middle East and parts of Italy, sold ground or dried they have a fruity, astringent taste. Available through Kalustyan's, (800) 352-3451 or www.kalustyans.com.

Dukkah-Crusted Monkfish Cheeks with Taro Chips and Preserved Lemon Tartar Sauce (Serves 8)

Marlborough, New Zealand 2001

For the dukkah crust: Place nuts in food processor fitted with metal blade and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until nuts are the size of lentils. Store in airtight container until ready to use.

For the taro chips: Steam taro batons over hot water for 20 minutes or until soft. Cool and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.

For the preserved lemon tartar sauce: In food processor fitted with metal blade, combine egg, yolks, garlic and mustard and puree two minutes. Combine oils and slowly drizzle into food processor to make thick sauce with consistency of mayonnaise. When half of oil has been added, drizzle in water, vinegar, and preserved lemon flesh. Continue to puree, slowly drizzling in remaining oil. Transfer sauce to bowl and fold in lemon skin, parsley, capers, and chives. Season with salt and pepper, bearing in mind that preserved lemons are quite salty.

To finish: In deep-fryer or tall-sided pot, heat oil to 375 degrees. Dredge cheeks in egg whites, then in dukkah mixture. Fry in oil until cooked through, about four minutes, working in batches if necessary. Fry taro batons in oil until golden brown, at the same time as fish, if possible. Remove fish and chips from oil with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Season chips with salt.

To serve: Arrange fish, chips and peppers in parchment-lined basket. Garnish with parsley leaves and serve with tartar sauce alongside.

For the preserved lemon tartar sauce:

*Dark red, moderately hot and tart pepper native to Turkey and northwestern Syria. Available through Penzey's Spices, (800) 741-7787 or www.penzeys.com.

**A brand of vinegar from Spain available through The Chefs' Warehouse, www.chefswarehouse.com.

***Long, thin Spanish peppers with moderate heat and sweetness. Available through Despania, (718) 779-4971.

Grilled Kangaroo with Yellow Fava Falafel (Serves 8)

Cabernet Sauvignon "Ashmead"

For the yellow fava falafel: Combine all ingredients in food processor fitted with metal blade and pulse until beans resemble fine grains. Divide mixture into eight equally-sized patties. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until ready to cook.

For the tomato-apricot relish: Combine all ingredients in saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cook 30 minutes. Remove from heat and refrigerate until 30 minutes before serving.

For the tahini sauce: In bowl, combine all ingredients and whisk together until smooth. Transfer to squeeze bottle and refrigerate until 30 minutes before serving.

For the kangaroo: Preheat grill. Season kangaroo with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill kangaroo on all sides until rare, about three minutes. Remove from grill, cover loosely with foil and let rest in warm place for four minutes.

To finish: In deep-fryer or tall-sided pot, heat oil to 350 degrees. Working in batches, fry falafel until golden brown, about three minutes. Drain on paper towels and season with salt.

To serve: Arrange falafel on plate and drizzle over and around with tahini sauce. Garnish with upland cress. Cut kangaroo into thin slices, working against the grain. Season with sea salt and stack atop falafel. Drizzle with jus, garnish with relish and serve.

For the yellow fava falafel:

For the tomato-apricot relish:

* Dark red, moderately hot and tart pepper native to Turkey and northwestern Syria. Available through Penzey's Spices, (800) 741-7787 or www.penzeys.com.

**Bittersweet seeds of fenugreek plant, used extensively in Iranian and Indian cooking. Fenugreek is a member of the bean family. Available in specialty stores.

***Available through Adventure in Food, (518) 436-7603 or www.adventureinfood.com.

****Also known as land cress or dryland cress a cold-hardy member of the mustard family that resembles watercress in appearance and taste. Available through The Chef's Garden, (800) 289-4644 or www.chefs-garden.com.

Fenugreek Panna Cotta with Meyer Lemon Gelee (Serves 8)

"Cordon Cut" Late Harvest Riesling

Clare Valley, Australia 2003

For the fenugreek panna cotta: In heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine sugar, fenugreek, vanilla and cream and bring to boil. Remove from heat and let steep one hour. Return to low heat and bring to simmer, then remove from heat. Squeeze excess water from gelatin and add to hot mixture, stirring until gelatin dissolves. Stir in buttermilk and strain through fine-mesh sieve. Pour into eight serving dishes and refrigerate until set.

For the Meyer lemon gelee: Combine juice and syrup in saucepan and bring to simmer over low heat. Remove from heat. Squeeze excess water from gelatin and add to juice, stirring to dissolve. Strain through fine-mesh sieve, allow to cool slightly and pour into serving dishes, over panna cotta. Refrigerate until set.

For the poppy seed tuile: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In bowl, combine syrup and seeds and mix well. Spray Silpat[R] mat with cooking spray and spread mixture onto mat, using offset spatula to make very thin layer. Bake in oven three to four minutes or until crispy. Let cool and remove from mat, breaking into large pieces as you remove it. Store in airtight container until ready to serve.

To serve: Garnish each serving with one tuile and serve.

For the fenugreek panna cotta:

For the Meyer lemon gelee:

*Bittersweet seeds of fenugreek plant, used extensively in Iranian and Indian cooking. Fenugreek is a member of the bean family. Available in specialty stores.

Wood Oven Bread with Yogurt, Syrian Marjoram and Olive Oil (Makes 5 loaves)

For the bread: Combine yeast and eight ounces water in large bowl and stir gently to "melt." Let rest five minutes, then add half of flour and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in warm place for 45 minutes. Transfer mixture to bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment and add remaining water, flour, oil and sugar. Mix on low speed three minutes, then add salt and mix for another 12 minutes. Lightly oil dough on all sides, place in large bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. Punch down and refrigerate 20 minutes. Divide into five equal portions and shape each into an oval. Let rest 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Bake bread 12 minutes, until golden brown and hollow-sounding when tapped.

To serve: Garnish bread with za'atar. Garnish yogurt with za'atar and olive oil and serve alongside hot bread.

*A combination of dried wild oregano, sesame seeds and salt. Made in-house at Taboon.

Kubbeh with Tzatziki (Serves 6)

For the filling: Heat olive oil in saute pan over high heat and add onions. Saute five minutes, until soft and golden brown, then add steak. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook over medium-high heat for 10 minutes, or until nicely browned. Add pine nuts, parsley and spices and mix well. Adjust seasoning if necessary, then remove from heat and transfer to strainer set over large bowl, to drain excess fat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the kubbeh dough: Place bulghur in large bowl and add enough cold water to cover by three inches. Let soak 30 minutes, then drain and set aside. Heat oil in large saute pan over medium-low heat and add onions. Sweat over medium-low heat until translucent, then stir in bulghur. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for five minutes, then remove from heat and transfer to large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then gradually add flour, mixing constantly. Turn dough onto clean work surface and knead gently for about five minutes. Cover with plastic and let rest 30 minutes.

For the tzatziki: Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Use fork to prick holes all around outside of eggplants. Place on sheet pan and roast in oven about 30 minutes, until very tender and bubbling. Let rest five minutes, then peel eggplants while still hot, discarding skin and as many of the seeds as possible. Transfer cooked flesh to strainer set over bowl or basin and let excess water drain for about 30 minutes. In mixing bowl, combine eggplant, yogurt and oregano and stir well. Season with salt and refrigerate, covered, until ready to serve.

To finish kubbeh: Pinch off 1-ounce ball of kubbeh dough and flatten into 1/4-inch thick disk between palms of hands. Place a scoop of beef filling in center of disk and gently wrap dough around filling, smoothing seams with water if necessary. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. In deep-fryer or tall-sided pot, heat oil to 350 degrees. Working in batches, fry kubbeh for three to four minutes, until browned and crispy. Drain on paper towels and season with salt to taste.

To serve: Spread tzatziki onto center of plate and top with one kubbeh. Garnish with oregano and serve.

*In this context, farina is a fine-milled flour made from various cereal grains. Available through Kalustyan's, (800) 352-3451 or www.kalustyans.com.

Falafel with Amba and Tahini Dressing (Serves 6)

For the amba: Combine mango and salt in bowl, cover and refrigerate 48 hours. In small pot, combine remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Remove from heat and pour over mango. Let cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate for six days. Puree mixture in blender and season with lemon juice and salt and pepper. Refrigerate in airtight container until ready to serve.

For the tahini dressing: In blender or food processor fitted with metal blade, combine parsley and hot water and puree until mixture forms smooth paste. In large bowl, combine remaining ingredients and whisk well to form smooth, thick paste. Stir in parsley puree and season with salt. Refrigerate in airtight container until ready to serve.

For the falafel: Drain and rinse chickpeas and combine in large bowl with cilantro, garlic, onion and chili powder. Pass mixture twice through meat grinder set on medium die. Stir in coriander, salt, baking soda and sesame seeds and mix well. In deep-fryer or tall-sided pot, heat oil to 350 degrees. Use ice cream scoop or spoon to divide mixture into 1 1/2-inch diameter balls. Working in batches if necessary, fry falafel in oil for two minutes, or until crisp and browned on the outside. Drain on paper towels.

To serve: Arrange tahini dressing in center of small plate. Arrange four falafel balls on plate and top each with small dollop of amba. Garnish with parsley leaves and serve.

*Also known as amchoor or amba powder, mango powder is made from unripe (green) mangoes. Available through Kalustyan's, (800) 352-3451, or www.kalustyans.com.

Silan and Shredded Halvah Sundae (Serves 8)

Souternes "Le Dauphin de Guiraud"

For the vanilla ice cream: In large saucepan, combine milk, vanilla, heavy cream, vanilla sugar, invert sugar and milk powder, mix well and bring to 104 degrees. In mixing bowl, combine yolks and three ounces granulated sugar and whisk to combine. Temper yolk mixture by adding one-third hot milk mixture while whisking constantly. Whisk tempered egg mixture back into remaining hot milk mixture and heat to 140 degrees. Combine remaining granulated sugar and ice cream stabilizer and whisk into hot milk mixture. Bring to 185 degrees, then remove from heat and strain through fine-mesh sieve. Chill in ice bath, cover and refrigerate 24 hours. Process in ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions. Store in freezer until ready to serve.

For the tahini topping: Whisk together all ingredients, adding a splash of water if necessary to achieve desired consistency. Store in airtight container until ready to serve.

For the crispy nut mixture: In large saucepan, combine half the sugar and water and cook to light caramel. Stir in Rice Krispies[R] and continue to cook to dark caramel, stirring carefully and making sure sugar doesn't burn. Remove from heat and spread mixture on Silpat[R] mat. Let cool to room temperature, then break into small pieces. Repeat procedure with remaining sugar, water, almonds and pistachios. Store in airtight container until ready to serve.

To serve: Place small amount of tahini topping, crispy nut mixture and honey in bottom of serving dish. Top with two scoops ice cream and garnish with more crispy nuts and honey. Place shredded halvah on top and serve.

For the vanilla ice cream:

For the crispy nut mixture:

*Date honey. Available through Kalustyan's, (800) 352-3451, or www.kalustyans.com.

**Halvah is a candy made from sesame paste and honey, most often sold in bars or slabs. Shredded halvah is available through Holon Middle Eastern Foods, (718) 336-7758.

Malabi with Raspberry Caramel and Coconut (Serves 10)

Sauternes "Le Dauphin de Guiraud"

For the malabi: In heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 3 1/2 cups milk and sugar over medium heat. Whisk together remaining milk and cornstarch in small bowl. When milk boils, add cornstarch mixture and return to boil. Add rosewater and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Remove from heat, let cool slightly and transfer to 4-ounce hemisphere molds. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 12 hours.

For the raspberry caramel: In saucepot, bring puree to simmer. In separate pot, combine sugar and water and cook to dark caramel. Carefully stir puree into caramel. Strain through fine-mesh sieve and let cool to room temperature. Stir in rose syrup. Refrigerate in airtight container until ready to serve.

To serve: Unmold malabi on chilled plate and drizzle with raspberry caramel. Garnish with coconut and pistachios and serve.

For the raspberry caramel:

*Available through Kalustyan's, (800) 352-3451, or www.kalustyans.com.

Squab Breast in Savoy Cabbage with Nigella Seeds (Serves 4)

Etna Rosso Sottana, Calderara

For the chicken mousse: In food processor fitted with metal blade, pulse chicken until coarsely ground. Add egg and pulse to combine. With machine running, slowly add cream until smooth. Transfer to bowl and season with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the squab: In saute pan, heat oil and butter over medium-high heat. Season squab with salt and pepper and add to pan with thyme. Brown squab on both sides, basting occasionally, until medium-rare, about 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Cover and refrigerate until chilled. Place cabbage leaf on plastic wrap and spread with thin layer of one quarter of mousse. Sprinkle one quarter of caraway seeds over mousse and top with squab. Fold in sides of cabbage and roll to close tightly. Wrap tightly in plastic. Repeat with remaining cabbage, mousse, caraway seeds and squab. Refrigerate at least one hour.

For the glazed carrots: Heat oil and butter in pot over medium-high heat. Add carrots, tossing to coat. Season with salt, cover and cook five minutes. Stir in honey, cumin and pepper and cook three minutes. Add juice, bring to simmer and cook, uncovered, until carrots are tender and glazed. Keep warm.

To serve: Steam squab rolls in plastic for 10 minutes. Arrange carrots on plate and drizzle with glaze. Slice squab and place atop carrots. Garnish with oil and salt and serve.

*Native to western Asia, these seeds have an oregano-like flavor and are also known as black onion seed, black cumin or black caraway. Available through Kalustyan's, (800) 352-3451 or www.kalustyans.com.

Curry-Crusted Monkfish Tail (Serves 4)

For the pomegranate sauce: Whisk together molasses, juice and oil. Stir in seeds and season with salt and pepper.

For the couscous: In saute pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add couscous and stir to heat through. Stir in currants, apricots, seeds and chives. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

For the monkfish: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Season monkfish with salt and pepper. Combine curry powder and coriander and coat fish. Sear fish on all sides, about five minutes, and transfer pan to oven. Cook eight minutes more and return pan to burner over medium heat. Add butter and garlic to pan and baste fish for about three minutes. Remove fish from pan and reserve cooking oil.

To serve: Place 3-inch ring mold on plate and fill with couscous, pressing lightly. Remove ring mold. Slice monkfish in half and arrange beside couscous. Spoon cooking oil and sauce around, garnish with almonds and cilantro and serve.

For the pomegranate sauce:

*Thick syrup of reduced pomegranate juice. Available through Kalustyan's, (800) 352-3451 or www.kalustyans.com.

Black Olive-Marinated Lamb Steak with Sunchokes and Preserved Lemon Chutney (Serves 4)

Nero D'Avola "Il Gattopardo"

For the preserved lemons: Arrange lemon slices on parchment-lined sheet pan and sprinkle with sugar and salt. Cover and refrigerate 24 hours. Pat slices dry and discard liquid. Place in container with olive oil, seal tightly and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the lamb steaks: Combine olives and oil in food processor fitted with metal blade and puree until smooth. Coat steaks with 1/4 cup olive mixture and garlic, cover and refrigerate 24 hours. Reserve remaining mixture for garnish.

For the chutney: In saute pan, heat one tablespoon oil and add shallots. Cook until softened and remove from pan to cool. Heat remaining oil in pan and cook garlic until browned. Remove from pan and let cool. In bowl, combine shallots, garlic, preserved lemon, mint and sumac. Season with salt and pepper and let sit one hour.

For the sunchoke puree: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss oil and sunchokes together and place on sheet pan with garlic. Cover and cook in oven until tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, peel sunchokes and transfer with garlic to food processor fitted with metal blade. Add butter and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

To serve: Preheat grill. Season lamb with salt and pepper and grill until medium-rare. Remove from heat and let rest 10 minutes. Partially slice lamb and season with sea salt. Place on plate with sunchoke puree and chutney. Drizzle with reserved black olive mixture, garnish with oregano and serve.

*Dark red berries of a bush native to the Middle East and parts of Italy, sold ground or dried they have a fruity, astringent taste. Available through Kalustyan's, (800) 352-3451 or www.kalustyans.com.

Warm Medjool Date Pudding Cake with Cardamom and Orange Blossom Parfait (Serves 6)

For the cardamom and orange blossom parfait: Bring cream to boil in saucepan. Crush cardamom pods and add to cream. Remove from heat and let steep 30 minutes. Return to heat and bring back to boil. In bowl, combine yolks and half of sugar. Temper yolk mixture by adding one-third of hot cream while whisking constantly. Whisk tempered yolk mixture into remaining hot cream and place over medium heat, stirring constantly until mixture is thick enough to coat back of wooden spoon. Strain through fine-mesh sieve, cover and refrigerate at least three hours. In saucepan, combine remaining sugar and water and heat to 248 degrees, stirring to dissolve sugar. In bowl of mixer, whip egg whites to soft peaks. With machine running, slowly add sugar and continue whipping until cool. Fold egg white mixture and orange blossom water into chilled cream mixture. Pour into 6-inch square pan, cover and freeze until ready to serve.

For the date pudding cake: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place dates in bowl of mixer fitted with paddle attachment and mix to break up. Add baking soda, vanilla and zest. Bring water to boil, add dates and simmer five minutes. Transfer to separate bowl and let cool. In mixer bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add butter and mix to form fine crumbs. Stir in date mixture, then eggs and yolk. Divide batter among six 4-ounce buttered and floured ramekins. Bake 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool.

For the candied kumquats: In saucepan, combine sugar and water and bring to boil, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add kumquats and reduce heat to simmer. Cook until kumquats are tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

To serve: Unmold cake, slice off top and arrange both pieces on plate. Spoon kumquats onto cake and drizzle with kumquat liquid. Slice parfait and place next to cake. Repeat with remaining cakes. Garnish with cardamom and serve.

For the cardamom and orange blossom parfait:

For the date pudding cake:

Pistachio and Honey Katafi with Whipped Labne (Serves 4)

Les Vignerons de Septimanie

St. Jean De Minervois, France NV

For the whipped labne: Line deep bowl with three layers of cheesecloth and fill with yogurt. Gather edges of cheesecloth together and tie closed with string. Hang yogurt over bowl and let drain in refrigerator 24 hours. Remove yogurt from cheesecloth, discarding liquid. Combine drained yogurt, cream, sugar and rosewater. Place in whipped cream dispenser and charge with three nitrous oxide cartridges. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.

For the katafi: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread half of dough on sheet pan, sprinkle with half of pistachios and half of butter. Place remaining dough on top and sprinkle with remaining pistachios and butter. Bake in oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, drizzle with honey and let cool. Break into 12 pieces and store in airtight container until ready to use.

For the fruit compote: Combine strawberries, blackberries and preserves in bowl, toss gently and let sit 30 minutes.

To serve: Place three dollops of labne on plate and top each with piece of katafi. Spoon compote around, sprinkle with sugar and serve.


Five Pre-Theater Restaurants to Target

The other day I was checking out a restaurant in the theater district for a friend and the very first line of the first Yelp review made me almost spit out the Shawarma I was eating. “Theater District is well known for its dining”. What? Where? Boise? If you say it out loud to someone in the subway you will get crazy stink eye stares from the locals. The pre-theater bunch on 46th street and around has plenty of decent options like Carmen’s, Becco, Basso56 and its not necessarily a bad idea to dress up and go to one of those. Most likely the average place is an upgrade over Boise. But considering the level of cooking you find everywhere else in NYC, the truth is that Theater District dining is close to the bottom of the pack.

But the point of this post is not to slam Theater District dining, though I do get some pleasure from it it seems. The point is to make it easier for the Hell’s Kitchen’s guide followers to pick a solid, affordable but somewhat unconventional place to eat before or after your show. The HK guide is one big mishmash of mostly cheap ethnic eats, not really suitable for pre-theater unless thats what you are after. So to make it easier for the readers I’ve flushed out five places out of the guide where you can have an exceptional meal. All these places are not in the district but close enough (5-10 minute extra walk on average depending on the size of your heels). Or you can just take a 5 minute taxi ride that will add $5 to your $500 evening. I think you can afford it

In that spot (10th/53rd) you gotta be good to succeed. Nothing but data centers, a liquor store, a deli and appartment buildings surround you. Taboon utilizes its good looking “Taboon” oven to create the type of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern dishes that will make your kids put down their phones and tell you about their day. Yes, that powerful. One of the top chefs in Israel help create the menu for Taboon initially. Try any of their bread specialties, the chicken with the Israeli couscous (big and bubbly just like I like em), and the sick Silan, one of my favorites desserts in the city.

An instant winner with the Michelin man, this Hooni Kim’s Korean inspired tapas joint dishes out greatness in consistent fashion. When you sit next to your new friend at the Broadway show who will boast about her Filet Mignon at Joe Allen, astonish her with the Tofu with Ginger Scallion Soy Vinaigrette, and the fiery Korean Chicken Wings, Bulgogi Beef Sliders and the Pork BibimBop you just attacked at Danji. And after you explain to her what a Bibimbop is, perhaps its also a good time to tell her that there’s also a Joe Allen in Miami Beach where she lives and/or she can get a decent filet mignon in Boise

You have a plethora of Italian joints in the area. Plenty of mediocre ones with Becco and Carmens one of the better and most popular, especially with families seeking family style dining. But I have a different spin on “family style”. Instead of sharing one huge chicken parm and penne alla vodka (Carmens) or order the all you can eat pastas of the day (Becco) why not share four or five different pastas that are much closer to the true south Italy cooking, vs the the south Italy cooking Americans often confuse with. Pastas like the stupendous but simple Trenette with garlic, almonds, tomato and basil, or the rich gnocchi with finger licking beef and pork ragu, or the pasta of the day like the Cavatelli. This is true Italian, by Italians, with Italian accents (for those with a Fish Called Wanda syndrome)

Sysco, Cargill, Fats R Us, are some examples of names you will see if all the area restaurants would require to print their distributors on the back of their menus. But at the Marshal you will see the 14 local farms they deal with to produce just about every ingredient on the menu. This is our answer to Slow Food in Italy. If something is no longer on the menu it means its not currently grown. A brilliant sides lineup, along with the best bread and butter in the area, followed by roasted chicken, meatloaf, best mussels this side of Newfoundland, and an amazing ice cream sundae to boot. American food, in America, cooked by Americans (with a little bit of help by Central Americans!)

You may not be able to hear each other, but you will have more fun than 96.5% of all the restaurants in the district. Between all the shouting of the staff every time someone comes in (“welcome”), leaves (“Thank You”) or goes to the bathroom (“aim well”), and the slurping of the best noodle soup you will ever have, you wont have time to talk to your spouse anyway. Dont be surprised if you are the only none Asian couple in the room (unless you are not a non Asian couple of course). The best pork buns in the city (I tried a bunch) and you will be hard pressed to find better Ramen than the splendid Akamaru Modern


Bustan Opens on the Upper West Side

In a city with countless wood-fired pizza ovens, the Middle Eastern equivalent, called a taboon, is in short supply. But now there is one, done in blue mosaic tile and fueled with wood and gas, on the Upper West Side. From it will emerge whole fish, cuts of lamb, vegetables and, of course, crispy flatbreads to accompany a hummus bowl or be offered with toppings. The chef, Efi Nahon, (shown with Tuvia Feldman, his partner), was formerly at Barbounia. The room, like Joseph’s dreamcoat, is a dazzlingly colorful setting, mixing fabrics and finishes throughout. There will be garden seating. (Opens Wednesday): 487 Amsterdam Avenue (West 84th Street), 212-595-5050.

ANGUS CLUB STEAKHOUSE This Art Deco-style newcomer has a steakhouse menu so generic you could order with your eyes closed. The shrimp cocktail, however, comes in two sizes, of four shrimp or six: 135 East 55th Street, 212-588-1585, angusclubsteakhouse.com.

CHEZ JEF Mathieu Palombino closed his Bowery Diner on Sunday and will replace it on Monday with a pop-up French bistro. It will be open for a few months and offer just three starters, three mains and three desserts. He’s revising the décor with red-check tablecloths. This summer, after more redecoration, he will transform it into a classic bistro with a longer shelf life: 241 Bowery (Stanton Street), 212-388-0052.

COLONIA VERDE Tamy Rofe and her husband, the chef Felipe Donnelly, who own Comodo in SoHo, have created a rustic setting evocative of a South American farmhouse, with food to match. They offer charred octopus, arepas with chorizo, salt-baked beef tenderloin and roasted sweet potatoes. There’s an open kitchen, a copper-covered bar and an airy greenhouse dining section: 219 DeKalb Avenue (Adelphi Avenue), Fort Greene, Brooklyn 347-689-4287.

EGG It has moved and is once again serving Southern-style breakfast and lunch: 109 North Third Street (Berry Street), Williamsburg, Brooklyn 718-302-5151, eggrestaurant.com.

THE GILROY The Upper East Side gets a spot for indulging in a late-night plate of oysters and a sophisticated drink. Highlights include a Negroni bar, high-wire molecular drinks and down-to-earth food like chicken potpie: 1561 Second Avenue (East 81st Street), 212-734-8800, thegilroynyc.com.

FRENCH LOUIE The owners of Buttermilk Channel in Carroll Gardens have named this restaurant for a French-Canadian folk hero and, accordingly, have given a French accent to the menu based on locally sourced ingredients. Some Creole dishes like crab dirty rice with skate figure in the mix. (Wednesday): 320 Atlantic Avenue (Smith Street), Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, 718-935-1200, frenchlouienyc.com.

NAVY Matt Abramcyk and Akiva Elstein have put the kitchen of their new place in the hands of Camille Becerra, who had a place called Paloma years ago and has been consulting. As the restaurant’s name implies, seafood is her focus, with uni toast for snacking, raw-bar specialties, fish cured in-house and dishes like ocean trout en croûte for two. Vegetables are also in the spotlight. The décor references the sea: 137 Sullivan Street (Prince Street), 212-533-1137, navynyc.com.

RARITIES This luxury lounge specializes in recherché Champagnes, wines and spirits by the bottle and glass (some fetching four figures) and whiskeys made during Prohibition. It seats only 25 by reservation. No food is served: New York Palace hotel, 455 Madison Avenue (East 51st Street), 917-202-8379.

THE RUNNER This American spot, done in a combination of industrial and Arts and Crafts styles, is the latest addition to the newly active Myrtle Avenue dining scene. The menu calls on a wood-burning oven for breads, vegetables and main dishes like shoulder of lamb and roast chicken for two: 458 Myrtle Avenue (Washington Avenue), Clinton Hill, Brooklyn 718-643-6500 therunnerbk.com.

VAN HORN With Joshua Seymour as executive chef, Jacob Van Horn has turned his three-year old sandwich shop into a restaurant that looks south, with Virginia peanut soup, sunchoke fritters and Benton’s country ham buns. Vintage pigeon cages provide novel wine storage: 231 Court Street (Warren Street), Cobble Hill, Brooklyn 718-596-9707, vanhornbrooklyn.com.

Looking Ahead

KNICKERBOCKER HOTEL The 1906 hotel is being renovated, and when it reopens this summer it will have a ground-floor cafe and a fourth-floor American restaurant to be run by Charlie Palmer, whose restaurant Aureole is across the street. The chef will be Cliff Denny. There will be a lounge on the 7,500-square-foot rooftop terrace: 6 Times Square (West 42nd Street).

THE NOMAD An extension of the bar is to open this summer in the hotel of the same name. It will have a separate street entrance and connect through the current bar, which has proved too small. “We are turning away too many people who want to experience Leo’s cocktails,” said Will Guidara, a partner, referring to Leo Robitschek, the bar manager: 10 West 28th Street.

PARM Old school Italian-American food, as interpreted by Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick, will no longer just be on Mulberry Street. This summer it’s coming to a larger space on the Upper West Side, with some new menu items: 235 Columbus Avenue (West 70th Street).

URBANSPACE A company that runs pop-up holiday markets plans a permanent 12,000-square-foot food hall for artisanal producers in the pedestrian passageway of the Helmsley Building. Eldon Scott, the president of the company, Urban Space, said the market, as yet unnamed, is to open in about a year: 230 Park Avenue (East 46th Street).


Five ingredients make a meal

If life had continued the way we’d planned, this week we’d be salivating over the publication of our food issue. But it’s now been more than a month since we decided to move from monthly in print, to daily and digital. And, since this writer in particular is now spending more time in the kitchen than she has in years, this seemed like a good time to revisit this feature from a year ago.

We asked five of our favorite neighborhood chefs make a dish using just five ingredients (we let them have salt, spices, and oil for free). Here’s what those creative cooks came up with.

Avocado cucumber salsa
Prep it
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1 cucumber, diced, peeled, and seeded
Juice of 1 lemon (1 tsp)
salt
1 tsp red onion, diced
1 tsp fresh dill

Make it
Mix it all together. Done.

Lemon orzo
Prep it
1 box orzo
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup blanched asparagus, diced
1 cup blanched spring peas
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp fresh dill

Make it
1. Cook orzo and rinse in cold water, then drain.

2. Toss with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and dill (optional).

3. Stir in asparagus, spring peas, and feta.

Grilled dill pickle chicken tenders

“Here’s a five-ingredient chicken that’s as delicious as it is simple. Pair it with the salsa (recipe above), a cumin yogurt dipping sauce, or anything that floats your boat – including the (best ever) orzo. If spring were a side dish, it’d be this. Simple and light, it’s satisfying and so, so right.”

1 package chicken tenderloins

1. Marinate the chicken in pickle juice for two to four hours (longer is better).

2. Spray a grill pan with non-stick spray.

3. Pre-heat the grill pan to medium high (five minutes) and grill the chicken for five minutes on each side (longer if they’re thicker).

The chefs: Shari Drewett and MK Washko, Better Being
Mary Kathryn and Shari are business and life partners and the owners of Better Being Catering. They specialize in seasonal, health-conscious fare and have been feeding fashionistas for the last two decades (clients have included Oprah Winfrey, Helena Christensen, and Mariah Carey. Yes, really!).
betterbeingnyc.com

Seared broccoli
Serves 2-4 as a side dish 1-2 as a veggie main

Prep it
2 heads broccoli
8pc sun-dried tomato in olive oil
12 raw almonds, halved and toasted
Olive oil
Salt to taste

Make it
1. In a dry frying pan, toast the almonds, cut-side down, until brown.
2. Coat frying pan with olive oil.
3. Cut the broccoli into individual flower clusters, then cut each cluster in half and sear, cut-side down, until nicely brown.
4. Toss with almond halves and sun-dried tomatoes with a pinch of salt. Simple and delicious.

The chefs: Bryan Ware and Gabriel Formento Lauro, Fresh From Hell
Both Bryan and Gabriel are true Hell’s Kitcheners. Bryan – a licensed real estate broker – and Gabriel – a creative director – have lived in the neighborhood for almost two decades, and both are passionate about how good food and fresh drinks make you feel.
freshfromhell.com

Pulled buffalo chicken
“This recipe is a quick and easy crowd pleaser, as you can throw it on some bread for a great sandwich, on top of greens to spice up a salad, or in a dish to serve as a dip with celery sticks and chips.”

Prep it
1 rotisserie chicken
1 cup Frank’s red hot sauce

1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese

Make it
1. Remove the skin and pull the chicken off the bone.
2. In a bowl, combine chicken with garlic, Frank’s Red Hot, sour cream, garlic, cheese, and pepper.
3. This is where the fun begins. Let your culinary imagination run wild. In the mood for a sandwich? Grab your favorite bread and have at it. Tired of bland chicken in your salad? This is a perfect addition to some greens. Having company over and no time to make hors d’ oeuvres? This is a great little crowd pleaser to serve with chips and veggies.

The chef: Michael Munoz, The Kitchen Gaily
Michael is a home-trained cook whose blog, The Kitchen Gaily, was created to make food fun and accessible to the masses – and to combine his passion for food with his unique style and camp humor. He is the host of the foodie, raunchy, podcast In You Mouth and a much-loved W42ST columnist.
themunoz.com

Parmesan-crusted white asparagus with prosciutto
Serves 1. Chef’s note: because of the simplicity of this dish, use the best-quality ingredients you can find.

Prep it
1/2 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
6 fresh white asparagus, trimmed and peeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 ounce thinly sliced prosciutto (3 to 5 slices)
2 quail eggs, or 1 large egg
Truffle oil (optional)

Make it
1. Bring a pot of water to a boil.
2. Squeeze the lemon juice into the water, add the lemon rind, and salt.
3. Add the asparagus and simmer until tender, about eight minutes or more, depending on the thickness of asparagus.
4. Drain the asparagus on kitchen towels and set aside.
5. Arrange the prosciutto slices on a plate and set aside.
6. Rub a tablespoon of olive oil on the bottom of an ovenproof dish, or baking sheet, and arrange the asparagus in a single layer. Season with salt and pepper.
7. Grate a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano over the asparagus. Broil until the cheese is golden brown, around two to three minutes.
8. Meanwhile, cook the quail eggs sunny-side up until the whites are completely set but the yolks are still runny. Set aside and keep warm.
9. Place the asparagus in the center of the prosciutto plate. Top with the quail eggs and finish with a drizzle of truffle oil, if using.
10. Enjoy with warm crusty bread and a glass of woody chardonnay or a light red like pinot noir.

The chef: Claude-Alain Solliard, Chez Josephine
Claude-Alain is executive chef at the legendary W42nd St restaurant, a Broadway tradition, and tribute to the entertainer Josephine Baker, founded in 1986 by her son Jean-Claude Baker. The French-American menu is served alongside live piano music in an intimate Parisian setting, surrounded by Josephine Baker memorabilia.
chezjosephine.com

Quick marinated fennel and shallot salad
Prep it
1 whole fennel (bulb and fronds)
1 medium-sized shallot, peeled
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup white sugar or coconut sugar
2 tbsp sea salt
1/4 cup grated parmesan or local hard cheese

Make it
1. Bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a simmer.
2. Add sugar and salt and stir until dissolved. Allow to cool to room temp.
3. Add white vinegar and refrigerate this brine.
4. Remove bottom 1/2 inch of fennel bulb with a knife, and discard. Slice entire bulb and fronds 1/4 inch thick.
5. Chop the shallot to medium-sized dice.
6. Add chopped fennel and shallot to the brine, and refrigerate for at least an hour, and up to three days.
7. Serve drained and chilled and top liberally with a good olive oil or avocado oil, and the grated hard cheese. Sprinkle with fresh thyme or chili if you like.

The chef: Charlie Marshall, The Marshal
Charlie grew up in his parents’ restaurant and on their farm on Lummi Island, in Puget Sound. His first restaurant, The Marshal, opened in 2013, named after the Wild-Wild-West protector of farms, and is the first American exclusively wood-fired restaurant in NYC. In addition to supporting local farmers and producers, Charlie also loves to remind New Yorkers that they live in the heart of a thriving, productive, and award-winning wine country, so features only NY wineries on his wine list. The Marshal has been awarded the New York Wine & Grape Foundation’s Restaurant Award, and the Snail of Approval award from Slow Food NYC. It has always been a three-star Certified Green Restaurant.
the-marshal.com

½ lb each ground beef and veal

5 without-the-crust slices of challa bread

3 tbs ras el hanout spice

8 big yellow onions, peeled and sliced

1. In a medium-size pot under medium-low heat, add the vegetable oil. Let it heat up and add the sliced onion, then cook for 45 minutes or until caramelized.

2. In a bowl mix all the ingredients besides the challa bread.

3. Soak the bread in hot water for five minutes, then squeeze the water with your hands, chop with a knife, and add to the meat mix. Blend it all together.

4. Form meatballs 1 or 1 ½ oz size

5. Add to the caramelized onion and keep cooking for 45 minutes on a low heat.


Flight 6 - Tuesday, October 20, 2015 (A Broadway Play. Then Dinner at Sardi's) (1 Note)

Broadway plays are an integral part of any trip to New York. We started this year’s shows with A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (http://www.agentlemansguidebroadway.com). Staged at the Walter Kerr theatre, it was a tremendous production, well-worthy of its 2014 Tony Award for best musical.

After the play, we strolled to Sardi’s (234 West 44th Street http://www.sardis.com), a New York stalwart. A true throwback, with red booths and caricatures of celebrities lining the walls, it was a fun place to dine. It had a similar vibe to some of the older restaurant haunts in Palm Springs.

I began with French onion soup, which was well-done, albeit not distinctive.

My wife started with a salad of roasted marinated red beets, upland cress, orange, goat cheese and red beet vinaigrette. While visually appealing, it was lacking in flavor and fairly pedestrian.

For my main course, I made a good choice. The skewer of marinated chicken breast served with grilled eggplant, tomato, zucchini, vidalia onions and salsa cruda was delicious. The chicken was plentiful, perfectly moist and the accompaniments were equally tasty.

My wife’s choice of sautéed sea scallops with vegetable risotto, micro greens and shimp sauce was somewhat less impressive than my entrée, but there was no denying that the scallops were fresh and beautifully cooked.

Our choice of wine was the 2010 Clos du Pavillon, which was minimally marked up relative to retail. It paired well with both entrées.

2010 Clos Du Pavillon 88 Points

France, Bordeaux, Libournais, Puisseguin-St. Émilion

Ordered from a restaurant's wine list, this bottle was essentially "popped and poured" (without decanting), then consumed over the ensuing 1-2 hours. It is a perfect example of how lesser-known Bordeaux wines can shine in a stellar vintage. From a Saint Emilion satellite appellation, this 100% Merlot offering is deep crimson and flaunts a classic nose of kirsch, anise, minerals and lavender. Medium-to-full-bodied, fresh, seamlessly alcoholic (despite being listed as 15%) and with medium-weight, sweet tannins, it delivers flavors which mirror the nose. The middle palate stays solid and the smooth finish is medium in length. Soft textures, ripe fruit and good pricing make this wine a very desireable restaurant selection. It should be at its best over the next 5-7 years. Drink now-2022.


3 ways chefs can offer high-end experiences at a fast casual price

Efi Naon, executive chef and director of operations of Taboon, a fine-dining restaurant in New York City, shares how he offers an elevated experience at his fast casual brand, Taboonette.

Efi Naon, executive chef and director of operations of Taboonette, has incorporated the menu from his fine dining restaurant into his fast casual brand.

By Efi Naon, executive chef and director of operations, Taboonette

It's no secret there is one generation changing the way we eat — Millennials. They are expected to spend $1.4 trillion by 2020, and food is at the top of the spending list.

Thinking of today's consumers, we are seeing a drastic desire for better at an affordable cost. You'd think the two are polar opposites and can't coexist, but restaurants are making it happen and giving customers an elevated experiece at a fast-casual price. How? Through their atmosphere, ingredients and technology.

Atmosphere
While food is the star of a restaurant, it's the atmosphere or ambiance that keeps a customer coming back. Going to a restaurant shouldn't just be about the meal itself, but also about the experience. It's essential to create a good atmosphere that makes it an enjoyable place to spend time. To do this, create an open kitchen concept, this allows customers to see their food being made which can in turn be a truly awesome experiece. High tops and communal tables also make for a great gathering for small and large groups.

At Taboonette in New York, and all future franchise locations, we have a taboon in the dining room — a wood-burning oven where we cook warm flat bread. This draws inspiration from backgrounds of each one of us who have been apart of the brand and our personal experiences throughout the Mediterranean and Israel. Adding a statement wall or unique menu item can also play in your favor — the more "Instagramable" you are, the more likely you'll gain brand awareness and increase your foot traffic.

Ingredients
So many of the foods we eat today are processed — it's cost-effective and quick, but it's unhealthy and changing the quality of the meals we create. Taste is a major factor when it comes to the success of a restaurant and consumers are in search of a more wholesome flavor that is good for the body. Opt for fresh ingredients that are sustainably sourced and locally grown – high-quality ingredients will result in better flavor and nutrition.

Taboonette's menu is inspired by the ingredients and dishes of the place where everything began for us, our full-service, fine-dining restaurant Taboon. We incorporated flavors all over the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean coasts and created an award-winning menu. Using Taboon's menu as our base, we then transferred the flavors into the format of a fast casual business – perfect for the busy lifestyles of customers as well as the business demands of prospective franchisees.

Seeing the history of Taboonette's transformation, it's easy to see why we are proud of the brand both as a kitchen and concept. And pride matters when you're proud of your kitchen, take advantage of this and be transparent. By educating guests about what they were eating, who prepared it, and where the ingredients were sourced, they can feel more confident about dining at your restaurant regularly. Don't be afraid to take risks with ingredients, trending flavors and spices. Restaurants are doing out-of-box things with cauliflower, ginger and turmeric. Just make sure you remain authentic stick to your roots to perfect what you are known for.

Technology
It's hard to imagine life without technology. The majority of the world has technology right at its fingertips. With restaurants, customers expect quick and expert service – most of the time it's with the expectation technology will be involved. Today's advancements in tech can help improve a diner's experience and the efficiency of your business.

Adding technology to assist in the ordering process can drastically decrease the wait time and boosts accuracy in ordering. This will convey that your restaurant put thought into its service with the needs of customers in mind, exuding hospitality.

At Taboonette and the franchise protype location, we made the choice to include self-ordering kiosks and electronic table locators, which help meet these growing expectations and demands of today's consumers. Our kitchen includes a self-cooking center that is revolutionizing how food is prepared with a results-input approach. This allows us to create from-scratch, slow-cooked food in a quick-service atmosphere. It also ensures that food is always consistent with guest expectations, but on the horizon of AI, technology needs be well-balanced so don't lose sight of human interaction and personability.

To appeal to consumers, restaurants must adapt to the everchanging consumer landscape. With millennials leading the way, dining out several times a week has become the social norm. Restaurants and franchises can flourish when they are strategic with building a comfortable and entertaining atmosphere, investing in high-quality ingredients to enhance their menu and updating technology to create efficiency in day-to-day operations.


Harissa is a versatile spice that’s packed with a lot of health benefits

Eating the same foods every day can get boring, even if you’re already enjoying healthy dishes made with familiar ingredients. If you want to taste something new (and also nutritious), try adding harissa to your food.

Harissa, a spicy condiment from North Africa

Harissa originated in Tunisia in North Africa. Today, it is widely used in both Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine. Harissa has a chili-pepper base, meaning the condiment contains capsaicin.

According to studies, capsaicin offers benefits such as boosting your metabolism and preventing inflammation.

The versatile condiment can be used to spice up meat marinades or scrambled eggs. Harissa can also be served as a dip or spread for bread and crudites. (Related: Boost flavor and health benefits by adding herbs and spices to your meals.)

Harissa paste has a base of roasted red peppers and dried chili peppers. Other ingredients include salt and superfoods like cumin, garlic, lemon and olive oil.

Efi Naonm, the Israeli chef of Taboon and Taboonette in New York City, explains that harissa’s flavor profile is “spicy and slightly smoky.”

If you’re not a big fan of spicy foods, use harissa sparingly, at least until you get used to it. Adjust to your taste preferences by using less harissa than what’s recommended in recipes or when you’re using it as a topping.

The health benefits of harissa

Tori Martinet, a registered dietitian and the director of wellness and nutrition at Restaurant Associates, shared that spicy foods and condiments like harissa can increase your feelings of satiety. In short, harissa can make you feel full.

Capsaicin, the compound in chilis that makes them spicy, is an antioxidant that helps boost your heart health.

Unlike other hot sauces, harissa contains less sodium. The condiment may be beneficial for those who want to manage their blood pressure or anyone who wants to reduce their salt intake.

According to a 2015 study published in The British Medical Journal, researchers discovered that participants who consumed spicy food at least six to seven days per week had a 14 percent lower mortality rate. To enjoy the same benefits, incorporate harissa into some of your favorite dishes.

How to use harissa

You can purchase harissa as a ready-to-eat paste at most grocery stores or you can make it at home. The condiment is also available as a powder that can be mixed with olive oil and lemon juice when you’re ready to cook.

Not sure how to use harissa? Try some of the suggestions below:

  • Add it to marinades.
  • Make a harissa aioli.
  • Make Moroccan sauces like heryme, which is a blend of harissa that also contains cilantro, fish stock, olive oil and peppers.
  • Swirl harissa into dips, dressings, hummus or yogurt. The cool, creamy flavors of these foods balance the heat of harissa.
  • Use it to season savory dishes while you’re cooking.
  • Use harissa to make spicy poached fish.
  • Harissa also pairs well with a hummus bowl, kebab or shawarma.

Homemade harissa recipe

If you prefer to make your own harissa with fresh ingredients, follow the recipe below.

Ingredients:

  • 16 long red chili peppers
  • 4 large red peppers
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 150 mL virgin olive oil
  • 10 g of 100% cacao (e.g., Madagascan)
  • Pinch of salt

Preparation:

  1. Wrap the chili peppers in foil and bake them with the unwrapped red peppers. Roast for 25 minutes.
  2. Peel, de-seed and blend the chili peppers and red peppers, but leave a little texture.
  3. Toast the cumin seeds, then grind with a pestle and mortar.
  4. Add the oil and the peppers, cumin and peppers to a saucepan. Bring it to a boil over medium heat.
  5. Add the rest of the ingredients, then spoon into clean jars.

Whether you buy harissa or make your own at home, adding this condiment to your diet can give you a dose of different superfoods that can help reduce inflammation and boost your heart health.